Shaping social studies 

Sixty-five individuals are tasked with reviewing and rewriting the curriculum. At least one name on the list has drawn fire in the past for controversial statements: David Barton, the founder of WallBuilders, a group that bills itself as “an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious and constitutional foundation on which America was built — a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.”

Most of those comprising the curriculum review committee are school teachers and principals, however, and some within the group said the final curriculum will be consensus-based.

About the process
By law, curriculum for school subjects are to be reviewed every six years, although the way the state conducted the reviews and editing has mostly stayed the same. This year’s social studies review committee is the largest for any subject in the past, and is looking at a unique way to determine revisions, said Kelly Curtright, director for social studies at the state Department of Education.

The committee is looking at a running storyline through history and other classes, such as geology and civics, Curtright said. For instance, American history classes in fifth grade, eighth grade and high school would have a common thread of foundations, formations and transformations of the American system, he said.

“Most of the time you have other states, the committees get together and they say, ‘We want this in; we want that in. We don’t want that in; we don’t want that in,’” Curtright said. “We have something that brings rhyme and reason, it brings coherency to it, and it drives home and pulls our kids toward that goal of being a literate citizen.”

right, Kelly
Curtright, director for social studies at the state Department of
Education, talks with Brenda Chapman, social studies curriculum
facilitator for Putnam City Public Schools.

Teaching social studies often gets left behind as schools try to do better in other areas such as reading and math, said committee member Brenda Chapman, social studies curriculum facilitator for Putnam City Public Schools.

“Social studies — and to some extent, science — gets pushed behind, which is why (state Superintendent Janet) Barresi’s citizenship part of her (C3 plan: college, career and citizenship-readiness initiative) is important,” Chapman said. “We’re almost creating a generation of civic amnesiacs, and that’s dangerous. For a democracy to be healthy, we need people to be able to take in information, listen to points of view, and reach a conclusion based on their evidence and their own background.”

Chapman said part of the process is determining what truly had an effect on history, what is a side story, and keeping the story line throughout.

The committee had several meetings as of November, and its next meeting is scheduled for December. After the com mittee finishes its work, recommendations go to the state Board of Education for review and passage. If passed by the board, it will go to the Legislature for review and passage, and then to Gov. Mary Fallin for approval, Curtright said.

The committee has 65 members, 37 of which are classroom teachers, 12 are district curriculum specialists, and the remainder includes principals, superintendents, museum professionals, American Indian tribal members and some private individuals, Curtright said. The committee members come from every corner of the state and school districts of all sizes.

If passed, the curriculum would begin showing up in textbooks around 2013, Curtright said.

Barton’s background
At press time, Barton had not returned calls seeking comment for this story, and he did not attend the committee’s most recent meeting on Nov. 9, although he has attended previous meetings.

Barton is often cited and promoted by high-profile conservative personalities such as Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee. He has stated that separation of church and state is “a myth,” sits on the board of directors for the Providence Foundation, an organization with the mission to “train and network leaders to transform their culture for Christ.”

Barton, who served as vice chair of the Texas Republican Party, has been characterized in the past as a “biased amateur who cherry-picks quotes from history and the Bible,” according to one 2011 New York Times profile. He also was involved in the Texas school curriculum controversy in 2010, where he and others worked to purge important civil rights leaders such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall, as well as downplay the role of Martin Luther King Jr.

“Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society,” Barton has reportedly said.

Department of Education spokesman Damon Gardenhire said Barresi reached out to educators and others to be part of the committee, and to Barton because of her respect for him.

“Barresi asked David Barton to participate because he has been dedicated to the pursuit of history and the lessons we can learn from it. The many participants in the 65-member committee offer a range of backgrounds to round out their work,” he said.

Chapman said all points of view were being considered, and decisions were being made on a consensus basis.

“It’s good to have all perspectives because then you get a more balanced view. If you only have people from one side of the table, you’re going to get an unbalanced curriculum,” Chapman said.

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